Senior Essay: “What does U of I mean to me?”


Kelsey Vlamis (right) celebrates her freshman-year Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day with Zana Darwish (left), senior in ACES.

By Kelsey Vlamis

Alas, when asked to comment on my University experience in approximately 500 words, I found myself drawing a blank. Not due to a lack of notable experiences, but rather an inability to determine which of these experiences is most representative of my time here. As I spend my final days preparing for the “real world,” I am inevitably going over every memory I can recall — the friends I’ve met, the all-nighters I’ve pulled, the lazy days spent on the Quad, the memorable (and the regrettable) nights out—all of it. And as I reflect on these moments, big and small, good and bad, I find myself asking, “What does U of I really mean to me?” And after my brief four years here, this is what I’ve gathered.

To many people, college means partying — a stereotype that anyone who has seen our campus on a Saturday (or even Monday) night can attest to. Yes, U of I means an excessive icing out of blue guys at KAM’s. It means one too many chicken strips from Geo’s (Papa who?), and more than one too many freshmen at Red Lion (thank God for Tuesdays). It means nights whose details you can’t quite recall, and more Burnett’s Vodka than any human should consume, like, ever. Or maybe it doesn’t mean any of that to you (in which case, you put the rest of us to shame).

But U of I also means being constantly surrounded by some of the most passionate, creative and inspiring young minds in the country (which isn’t changed by the fact that they like to have a good time). It means newfound freedom and the inevitable abuse of that freedom. It means growing as a person, expanding your mind, and being pushed to think in ways you never have before. It means challenging yourself and beginning to understand for the first time what you are truly capable of. It means grabbing food on Green Street, playing frisbee on the Quad, sipping coffee at Espresso Royale and meeting someone new almost every day. It means finding a family in a sea of 40,000, whether it be an unbreakable group of friends, a fraternity or sorority, or an RSO (shout out to my homies in Alpha Phi Omega). It means taking each and every one of these experiences, and walking away from Chambana after graduation without actually leaving any of them behind.

Here’s to those experiences. Here’s to the life-long friendships. Here’s to the professors we’ve loved and the professors we’ve hated. Here’s to the classes that challenged us. Here’s to finding our passion — or not yet finding it but being that much closer. Here’s to the University of Illinois, a place I’ve been proud to call home. So as I ride the rail at Legends one last time, as I cross that stage at graduation, and as I make that monotonous drive North on 57 for the last time in probably a long time, I’ll think about the memories, the friends and the inspiration I’ve found here.

Written by Kelsey Vlamis, senior in ACES. 

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